From Endurance to Dressage
Last Wednesday, I was back at M.A.R.E. for week two. For my second visit as a volunteer, I felt much more confident. I knew where to park - at least I thought I did, and I knew that my job was still in limbo. As it turned out, I kept myself busy.
For each day of the week, the volunteer coordinator sends out a reminder email to all that day's volunteers letting them know of anything important for the day. The first week, I didn't get the email - not too surprising as it was to be my first visit, and I probably wasn't on the group email yet. That email was about parking. The pasture parking was super soft and muddy so volunteers were told to park along a different driveway. Not knowing, I parked in the mud. I was pretty sure I was going to need four wheel drive to get out. Thankfully, I didn't have a problem.
The second week, I did get the email, and again, it said to look for the sign directing visitors to a different parking area because the pasture parking was muddy. I drove slowly, but I didn't see the sign, so again, I parked in the mud, but so had everyone else. Apparently things had dried up between sending the email and the arrival of volunteers. My reason for volunteering is to give back without making life more complicated, so I am just rolling with it. If they say turn left, I am turning left. I love not being in charge.
The arena is still under construction, so the kids aren't having riding lessons quite yet. Since M.A.R.E. is a member of P.A.T.H. (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship), they follow as many of P.A.T.H.'s safety guidelines as possible. One of those requirements is perimeter fencing around the ring. Right now, the roof is built and seems finished. I do know that gutters will be installed soon, but that isn't a safety feature. When I was there on Wednesday, the tractor was working the footing. I don't know if moe sand will be brought in, but it is looking closer to being rideable.
Since I am only at M.A.R.E. once a week, the progress moves pretty quickly. Last week there was a huge ditch alongside one side that had been dug out to create a drain. This week, the ditch was filled in although I was told no one should walk on it for the next several weeks as it needs to dry out. The other thing that had been completed was the poles for the perimeter fence. As wet and rainy as it has been here, I am surprised they were able to accomplish so much in just one week. I'll be at M.A.R.E. again tonight, so I am eager to see how much more progress has been made on the arena.
Without an arena to ride in, M.A.R.E.'s two instructors have had to get creative with their lessons. Last week, one of the instructors hid grooming tools around the barn for her rider to find. The little girl was given laminated cards of the different tools, each showing the picture of the tool she was to find. Once she found all of the items shown on the cards, the instructor helped her use each tool on Haven and discuss its purpose. It's not as much fun as riding, but the instructors are still working on skills that the kiddos need. From what I've observed, the lessons have been centered on social skills, communication, and following directions.
Wednesday's Barn Captain is a really kind woman who has been patient with all of my questions. Since I couldn't really help during the non-riding lessons, she and I pruned some small rose bushes; she pointed, and I clipped. I have no skill when it comes to gardening. Later, she let me know that she had to leave early but felt confident in my ability to bring a horse in to the cross ties and help with the feeding. While that sounds patronizing, it was actually quite complimentary. It was only my second day, so to be left on my own was quite flattering.
Besides doing some gardening, we brought all of the turned out horses back into the barn. I almost know each horse by sight. Reina and Knightly are easy because they are the two giants; Knightly is 18'3. Haven is a fine boned chestnut pony, and Cricket is the Halflinger. George is a former dressage horse, and Morrey is the mini. There are four others, one of whom I blanketed, but I don't have his name memorized yet. By today, I think I'll have them all.
While the instructor gave her lessons, I looked around for something else to do. M.A.R.E. has a lot of volunteers so there isn' much left undone, but there is always something to sweep. I swept out the feed room and then moved on to the tack room. I noticed a box filled with a jumble of grooming equipment along with some mini tubs, so I put all of the rubber curry combs in one tub, the metal combs in another, the hairbrushes in their own space, and then lined up all of the bristles brushes. The full-time trainer laughed, but I think the effort was appreciated.
The full-time trainer recently reorganized the entire tack room. It looks great, but it's obvious there are a few tasks left to tackle. I asked if I could do all of the pads for her when I go back today. She looked surprised that I wanted to do that kind of work, but I rubbed my hands together in glee. Organizing is one of my super powers. I'm going to get there early today so that I have enough time to sort out all of the pads and still have time for whatever tasks might be assigned.
I was worried the time commitment would be too much. I am not worried any more.
I am really excited about this next find your joy project!
Here in Bakersfield, we are lucky to have some unique and specialized programs. M.A.R.E., Mastering Abilities Riding Equines is just one of them. "M.A.R.E. is a 501(c)3 that provides equine-assisted therapies and activities for children, adults & veterans living with special needs and disabilities. [...] M.A.R.E. is currently a member center in good standing with PATH Int’l (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship). M.A.R.E. adheres to PATH Int’l therapeutic riding center accreditation safety standards and proudly employs PATH Int’l certified therapeutic riding instructors."* M.A.R.E. was founded in 1990 and continues to grow and expand.
I am not sure when I first learned about M.A.R.E., but it was probably in the late 1990s. Even back then I was excited about the program and wanted to find a way to volunteer. Unfortunately, I was always too busy with work and riding my own horses. In Late November, I was at a neighborhood pop-up event, one of those events that feature local artisans selling their wares from small pop-up tents. As I was browsing one such tent, the vendor remarked on my travel mug. It features the evolution of a Neanderthal to a dressage rider and bears the logo, "born to ride." I asked if she were a rider herself, and she replied that she is the executive director of M.A.R.E.
You know horse people. Before too long we were finding friends in common. Eventually, I admitted that I have wanted to be a volunteer for a very long time. Once she heard that I am not only experienced with horses but an elementary school teacher as well, she urged me to volunteer assuring me that they had need of my particular scombination of skills. I thought about it for a week or two and decided that it was time for me to think less about me and more about helping others. There is no doubt in my mind that I was led by a higher power to visit that pop-up event. The Divine was certainly giving me a shove toward a path intended to help me find my joy.
After several emails back and forth, I was able to give M.A.R.E.'s Volunteer Coordinator a schedule that I thought would work for me. This past Saturday, I met her and another potential volunteer at the M.A.R.E. facility for a training session. In some ways it was what I expected - here is how we care for our horses, here is how we keep everyone safe, and here is what we expect from our volunteers. Most of that part was easy to follow. The safety of humans and horses is a high priority for me already, so the trainer didn't show me anything that I didn't already know about horse handling.
What was new were the specifics of the jobs I was being trained for. Like most equine therapy programs, there is a horse handler and side walkers, people stationed on the ground next to the rider serving as safety restraints and the instructors hands when needed. For our training session, George was tacked up with a western pad and a surcingle with handles, much like what vaulters use. The other volunteer and I took turns as both horse handler and side walker.
The horse handler's job is to control the horse while also ensuring that the two side walkers have enough room against the arena fence and around barrels and other obstacles. I obviously know how to lead a horse, but making sure there is clearance for the horse and the off side side walker took me a minute to adjust to.
The side walker's job is to maintain a grip on the saddle or surcingle while putting sufficient pressure against the rider's thigh to provide support and stability. This was hard. We didn't have a rider, but even so, keeping steady pressure against the saddle paddle while walking alongside a horse who isn't moving on a steady track meant coordinating my own feet and arms so that I didn't let loose of my "rider," get stepped on, or trip over my own feet.
Each volunteer is given a name tag with a set of icons below the volunteer's name. When we returned our name tags at the end of the training, we were told that the icons would be colored in indicating our level of clearance - which jobs we were eligible to perform. Before arriving for the training, I was highly confident that I could easily do any job that the center had. I am an experienced horse owner and a teacher of children; how much more qualified could I be? I didn't fully comprehend that the training was also a type of job interview. the coordinator was judging our fitness for each job.
As I drove away, I worried that all of my questions might have left a bad impression. I made it clear that I am happy to do any job including sweeping, cleaning stalls, or disinfecting tack, but the truth is that I really want to work with the kids. Both horse handler and side walker require experience with horses, so I am pretty sure that's the job I will be given.
Today will be my first day as a volunteer. I will be volunteering every Wednesday from 3:30 - 6:00. A massive covered arena has just been installed at the facility, but there is still work to be done. A perimeter fence has to be built, and the footing needs to be leveled and worked. For the first few weeks, I will be assisting with barn lessons. This is to be an opportunity for the volunteers to get to know the kids as they are working on grooming and other activities around the barn.
I am both excited and nervous. I am looking forward to this opportunity to serve, but I am also worried that I won't be good enough to truly be of use. I keep reminding myself that God wouldn't have put this opportunity in front of me if He didn't think it was something I needed.
I will be sure to let you know how it goes.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: